Careers in the renewable energy industry

Dan Mason, Editorial manager
December, 2017

With renewable energy having a key role in efforts to combat climate change, graduates from a wide range of backgrounds can play their part in this growing industry

From wind turbines to solar panels and tidal barrages to biofuels, clean and renewable energy sources are increasingly familiar to all of us, and they're more important than ever as governments attempt to meet international targets for reducing carbon emissions.

But what opportunities are there in the sector for graduates with an interest in energy and the environment? Industry insiders - from a trade association, a recruitment firm and an energy company - give their expert views on the jobs market.

Graduate jobs in renewable energy

'As international agreements to tackle climate change and CO2 emissions gain momentum, the renewable energy sector is likely to see huge growth in the coming years,' predicts Sophie Bennett, policy manager for employment, skills and training at RenewableUK, the trade association for wind and marine energy.

'With rapid development taking place, new entrants will have the opportunity to play a major part,' she adds. 'Wind and marine energy currently supports around 30,000 direct and indirect jobs and there is the potential to generate a further 70,000 over the next decade.'

Sophie explains that there is a huge breadth of roles and career pathways available. 'A single renewable energy project requires the contribution of people from a range of backgrounds and skillsets, from ecologists, planners and project managers to engineers, communications professionals, business developers and even helicopter pilots,' she says.

'You could work outdoors on land or at sea, in an office or in a laboratory. Many roles offer the opportunity to travel and work in unusual places. Working in renewables offers the chance to be part of an exciting, diverse, growing industry as well as playing a part in the fight against climate change.'

One of the attractions of the industry is its potential longevity, she suggests, as renewables will outlast fossil fuels. 'Renewable energy is now the UK's second largest source of electricity, generating more than a quarter of our needs.

'This demonstrates that the UK is increasingly relying on dependable renewable energy sources to keep the country powered up, with renewables playing a fundamental role in generating electricity across the UK.'

Sophie concludes, 'This is a growing sector and will continue to play an important role in the energy mix, supporting tens of thousands of jobs for many years.'

Growth of the renewables industry

There are fantastic opportunities for students and graduates to build a career in the clean energy and renewables industry, says David Hunt, managing partner at specialist recruitment firm Hyperion Executive Search. 'The fact that my company recruits exclusively in the sector hopefully demonstrates my belief that there is enormous growth potential.'

David cites figures from the Renewable Energy Association (REA). 'In 2012/13 there were 103,033 people employed in the renewables industry, but by the end of 2013/14 this had grown to 112,028. This compared with an overall employment rise of just 1% during the same period.'

There are now around 6,500 companies in the sector with newly created jobs spread around the country.

'We are not an industry dependent on London and the southeast corridor. The much-vaunted northern powerhouse is responsible for almost 11,000 of the jobs in our sector.' In fact, it's a global industry - David says that more than 50% of his firm's current assignments are international.

He argues that renewables can play a leading role in helping the government to tackle the skills shortage in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

'One of the most exciting areas of growth is in energy storage. This provides both UK and international job opportunities for students and graduates interested in forging a career in our sector.

'Estimates by Lux Research, an independent research and advisory firm, suggest that the global industry for energy storage could be worth $100billion in the next few years,' he adds.

Renewable energy skills shortages

'When the energy industry was first privatised, energy companies were overwhelmingly full of engineers and scientists,' says Asif Rehmanwala, group commercial director at Ecotricity, a green electricity company that invests profits from customers' bills in renewable technology.

'But over the last decade, the balance has become tilted towards graduates with commercial skills,' he explains, highlighting the variety of careers that are on offer in the sector. The industry needs £200billion of investment to renew generating capacity from a range of sources including wind, solar, biomass, gas and nuclear.

'There is now a skills shortage for all types of engineers - from general mechanical, design and environmental engineers to more specific wind energy engineers - and scientists such as ecologists, as well as those with design and technical skills, including landscape and wind analysts,' says Asif. 'Starting salaries will vary from £19,000 to £28,000 depending on the job type, company and location.'

Ecotricity is an example of the many smaller energy companies challenging the so-called big six traditional suppliers - and these firms provide a range of opportunities for talented graduates.

'We are a vertically integrated energy company,' explains Asif. 'This means that we generate renewable energy through, for example, our own wind farms and sell it to households and businesses. So we need good people with skills and qualifications in engineering, science and maths for a wide range of technical roles.

'We look for people with analytical minds, perhaps displayed through a dissertation that reveals a candidate's quantitative and qualitative abilities, and we place a high premium on people that fit the ethics and core values of Ecotricity.'

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